This week, I wanted to share another lesson I’ve learned on my personal journey. It’s one that I think is critical to understand, but incredibly hard to learn and internalize.
Just because you struggle with fitness sometimes–and are not always perfect–does not mean you are a failure.
If you’ve ever felt yourself asking questions like the following, then this lesson is one you should internalize:
- Why do I feel like I’m never making progress at the gym?
- How do I get over my plateau? It feels like it’s never ending and don’t understand why I can’t just get better!
- How come it’s so hard to build healthy habits/a good gym routine?
- Why is keeping up with exercise so hard?
- How do I get over an injury (or recurring fear of injury) and get back to the gym?
Becoming fit and healthy is hard. Really hard. It’s not something that happens in a day, a week, or a month. It can take some of us years to get to where we want to be. And in a journey that long, it’s impossible for everything to be smooth sailing.
I know that is true for a lot of people, and it has been true for me, too. I’ve always had trouble getting to a perfect routine consistently. The longest I’ve ever kept one up steadily was about four months, before things got in the way and messed it up again. It turns out any number of things can get in the way of your fitness journey and make it a struggle to perform at the level you want to. Here are just a few of the ones that impacted me at one point or another:
- When I was in college, I’d live on campus for a few months at a time, and then be sent home in between. I had a great gym that I was able to access regularly while I was living on campus, and had no trouble keeping up a schedule when I was there, but every time I’d get sent home, everything would get messed up. I had no access to a proper gym anymore and no schedule to stick to, so inevitably I’d end up falling off the wagon.
- Stress caused some challenges as well. This was more so an issue earlier on in my fitness journey, but I had significant challenges with stress getting in my way. When I would feel stress coming on–often related to a big presentation coming up or a big workload, with a bunch of different things I needed to do in a short amount of time–I’d let fitness fall to the wayside, prioritizing my work. I realized eventually that this was terrible, and have gotten better at fighting off the voice that tells me to ignore exercise, but stress can still get to me sometimes.
- Depression was another big factor. Any time I’d face issues with mental health, I’d feel unmotivated to go to the gym and would stop going for a while. This was, of course, also a terrible idea as it always led to me feeling worse, since exercise does so much for the mind.
To help illustrate the chaos that was this never-ending on and off cycle, I made a fun little drawing that you can hopefully relate to:
During the hard times when I felt pressured by everything around me, I sometimes felt like a bit of a failure. How come so many people could drag themselves to the gym every day, but I couldn’t? What was wrong with me? Why was exercise so hard?
But I wasn’t a failure. I just needed to shift my priorities and find a better system. I’ve never fully escaped this cycle, but I’ve become much better at it, and that’s because I made fitness a priority. Even when I’m feeling overwhelmed with due dates, I make sure to fit the gym in. If I start to feel stress or depression creeping in, I’ll go to the gym to fight it off. And I try to stick to going regularly, too, as a way of fighting those bad feelings off.
Difficulties with getting yourself to the gym are just one of the many challenges and frustrations that come with fitness. Two other big areas that lead to much frustration are progress plateaus and injury, both of which I’ve struggled with at some point or another as well.
Plateaus are incredibly common in fitness: they happen to pretty much everyone at some point, and often more than once. As you keep working out, your body starts to become accustomed to the stress you put on it and it gets harder and harder to make more progress. In the first few months of working out, you may gain visible muscle and feel your body changing regularly, but if you just keep going steadily, you’ll see those changes slow down, and often stop.
It’s a super frustrating feeling because it can feel like you’re doing everything right–especially if you haven’t changed something and it was working before–but you’re still not getting anywhere! But believe me, you’re not alone in this at all. We all face plateaus and they’re frustrating for everyone!
Injuries are another common frustration. When you get injured, it often forces you to stop doing the workout you love for a significant amount of time, and that can lead to lost progress and unpleasant feelings of not being able to do an “adequate” workout. I’ve never had a major injury, but I did have a minor one that had a much bigger impact than I anticipated.
About 6 months into trying to rock climb regularly, I strained my big toe from overuse. It became impossible to put a lot of pressure on it, enough that it affected my normal walking and made it painful to put too much weight on the front of my foot. I had to stop rock climbing for months, which was something I loved to do. I lost all forward progress and momentum and just felt so frustrated with things.
But eventually, as with most injuries, it healed, and I was able to get back to the climbing gym and start again. The frustration and feelings of failure are only temporary, and they will get better.
If you are facing any of these situations–feeling like nothing is going right in your workout journey for any reason–I just want you to know that you are not alone. The perfection you see on the internet or when you compare yourself with others is fake. No one is perfect and no one exercises completely struggle free. We all have difficulties going to the gym sometimes, feeling unsatisfied with our progress, or feeling trapped by something outside of our control that limits our access to fitness.
So do not feel like your situation is hopeless. We’ve all gone through it, and most of us have come out the other side even better. There’s so much advice out there on how to deal with each of these situations, so rather than wallow in sadness and frustration, take action to try and address it. If you’re plateauing, change up your routine. If you’re finding other things getting in the way of your gym routine, find a way to prioritize workouts. And if you’re facing an injury that prevents you from doing one thing, try another that isn’t limited. There’s almost always a way out, you just need to look for it.